At Academe, as is the story with so many schools around the world, the transition to online learning was sudden and unexpected. I recall scrambling on the last day of in-person classes to distribute copies of 1984 and The Stranger to students, not knowing when I would see them again. A group project that I had announced that Monday, which would require students to work face-to-face in order to produce group illustrations, became obsolete over night. Although I am the only millennial teacher at Academe and my colleagues expect me to be technologically proficient, I am nonetheless a luddite and was admittedly nervous about the prospect of teaching online.
Despite my fears, I have found that online teaching still allows for us to do a number of the things we would normally do in the classroom as well as some things that we might not do otherwise. One of my favorite classroom activities is debate and I try to incorporate student debates into as many of my Main Lessons as possible. Debate is valuable because it allows students to practice a number of skills: research, writing, speaking, critical listening, critical thinking, etc. When adapting my Constitution to Civil War syllabus, I wasn’t sure if debate would be possible through the format of “zoom”, but I decided to try it. Not only was the first round of debates successful, but I decided to add more debate rounds in the final week of the block. Students were able to work in breakout groups to conduct research together. Speaking from home also seemed to allow some students to practice public speaking without feeling the “stage fright” usually associated with it. Beyond debates, the screen share feature of zoom allowed for students to share their essays with the class, which was helpful for peer-editing and talking through student writing.
All this is not to say that online classes are simple. Not everything I tried on zoom was a success (for example, the impromptu google maps street view field trip I took with the senior class was certainly a flop), but like with many things, the more we used zoom this semester, the more comfortable we became and the more possibilities we discovered. I miss the classic, analog style of teaching, my chalk-board, and most importantly seeing students and members of our community in person. Still, I am grateful that we have been able to continue having meaningful classes and that we have been able to stay in touch in some capacity during these wild times. No matter how next semester begins, I am looking forward to continuing to work with students and create the most meaningful classes I can.
Alex Lotito – Humanities Teacher